Trust: Key to economic recovery, social cohesion

Tapiwa Gomo

IMAGINE a village headman wakes up one morning to terrorise his villagers because he feels his power is threatened by growing dissent. Many lives are lost living behind orphans, widows and widowers. Those who survived carry scars from loss of loved ones and the injuries sustained during violence. Destitution is the order of the day as terror destroyed the livelihoods of most villagers. Both local and foreign investors lose their capital during the waves of violence.

After several seasons of brutality, the same village headman approaches the villagers and foreign investors purporting to have changed his ways. Without investing in regaining trust by addressing the violent past, he goes ahead and promises a brighter future. Several attempts to stabilise the situation — including the introduction of excellent ideas, good policy reforms and persuading foreigners to exploit abundant natural resources — did not yield results as the economy remained unresponsive. Perception from the headman and his people’s past created a trust deficit and took its toll on the ability of the village to rise again. No one wanted to invest in the village as long as the headman and/or his people remained in power.

There is general consensus that trust is the critical glue for any healthy social, political and economic relationship. Without it, societies will remain paranoid and disenfranchised. Trust means holding a positive perception about ideas, individuals or organisations. It represents citizens’ confidence in a government to do what is right for them. Therefore, trust in government is one of the key ingredients from which the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems are drawn.

Trust is critical for social cohesion and economic growth and has a huge bearing on the governments’ ability to govern without using force. A trusted government attracts social, political and economic investment from its citizens and foreigners. This, together with other factors, increases the efficiency and effectiveness of government policy implementation. The protests that characterised the country in the first half of the year tell a story of a people and a government who do not trust each other.

Our situation is not limited to government performance, but linked to the perception from the past. The political and economic crisis that began in 1998 led to a momentous loss of trust in the Zanu PF government. In the last two decades, confidence in the Zanu PF government has continued to decline. With President Mnangagwa’s government pre-occupied with the search for the key to economic recovery, the hurdle they face is not only in identifying the right ideas, but how to implement them in the absence of trust. His past remains the dark cloud that erodes the trust needed to secure support for government policies. Yet, the ability of the country to redeem itself from the current economic and political abyss depends largely on trust than ideas or financial resources.

The past two decades have also demonstrated that when there is a deficit of trust in the ruling government, mobilising support for reforms and economic recovery becomes hard, if not impossible. Despite having held several democratic elections, developed excellent economic blueprints and a coup masked as political change, the lack of economic recovery is serving to highlight that trust is a critical, yet perpetually overlooked factor in our search for a new Zimbabwe. The lack of trust in the Zanu PF government means less chance of getting help to rekindle the economy.

The effects of trust deficit are not only limited to the economy, but the behaviours and choices of citizens. A decline in trust has resulted in low compliance with rules and laws, bred and spread corruption, and resultantly causing capital to be more risk-averse. The rule of law and independent judiciary are critical because they are drivers of trust in government and empower citizens to seek recourse. A breakdown in law and order and increased lawlessness delays or kills economic growth needed to create employment. Where trust is low, citizens tend to trade long-term development for short-terms gains to address immediate life-saving needs. Lack of trust in government also chases away talent needed to rebuild the country.

In a context where Zanu PF, as the cause of trust deficit, has mastered the art of staying in power, it is hard to imagine how the country can bring back trust and rebuild the economy. In my last instalment, I argued that reforms without leadership renewal would be futile. However, there are opportunities for Zanu PF to rebrand and transform in order to present themselves as a new face that is divorced from its dark past. Bringing back trust means a huge investment in political change which should see most of the old and the current faces leave the political stage allowing fresh blood to assume the leadership reigns. It also means bringing to book their members who have been named in high profile corruption cases and instil confidence in the judiciary. Investing in trust is key to restoring and rebuilding our economy and bring back political and social cohesion necessary for peace and progressive engagement.